The most significant development of the first two weeks of the Braves’ season occurred off the field: the signing of outfielder Ronald Acuna and second baseman Ozzie Albies to new long-term contracts. The deals could keep Acuna, 21, and Albies, 22, with the Braves past their 30th birthdays while not inhibiting the team’s financial ability to put a strong cast around them.
Here’s a breakdown of how the contracts will affect the Braves’ payroll, year by year:
> 2019: Acuna and Albies will make $2 million combined this season, $1 million each, causing not even a ripple on the payroll. For Acuna, that’s just $440,000 more than he would have made this season without the new contract; for Albies, $425,000 more. Their salaries, less than 2 percent of a team payroll that now stands at $115.3 million, don’t affect the team’s financial capacity to make in-season acquisitions. “We definitely still have a lot of room for 2019 to add, whether that’s taking on contracts in trades or the remaining free agents that are still out there,” Braves general manager Alex Anthopoulos said.
> 2020: Again next season, Acuna and Albies will get a combined $2 million -- $1 million each.
> 2021: Acuna and Albies will get a combined $8 million -- $5 million and $3 million, respectively. That total is less than the cost of some middle relievers on the free-agent market.
> 2022: Their salaries will increase to a combined $20 million -- $15 million for Acuna and $5 million for Albies. Still a modest sum for, by then, two veteran franchise cornerstones.
> 2023, 2024 and 2025: A combined $24 million per year -- $17 million for Acuna and $7 million for Albies.
> 2026: A combined $24 million -- $17 million for Acuna and $7 million for Albies (if the Braves exercise their club option on Albies). If they don’t pick up Albies’ 2026 option, they’ll owe him a $4 million buyout instead of the $7 million salary.
> 2027: A combined $24 million if the Braves exercise their club option on both players -- $17 million for Acuna and $7 million for Albies. If the Braves decline their 2027 option on Acuna for some currently unfathomable reason, they will owe him a $10 million buyout.
> 2028: $17 million for Acuna if the second club option in his contract is picked up.
> Total: The contracts are worth a guaranteed total of $135 million (including the buyouts): Acuna’s $100 million over eight seasons and Albies’ $35 million over seven seasons. If both option years are picked up in both contracts, the Braves will pay Acuna and Albies a combined $169 million over a combined 19 seasons ($124 million for 10 seasons of Acuna and $45 million for nine seasons of Albies). By comparison, the Phillies will pay Bryce Harper almost twice as much, $330 million, over 13 seasons.
> Also notable: Neither Acuna’s nor Albies’ contract contains a no-trade clause. Neither contract contains any incentive bonuses. Neither contains a player opt-out clause.
> The bottom line: Before the deals were done, Albies was five years from free agency and Acuna six years away. Now, they are nine and 10 years from free agency, respectively, including the club option years. The Braves got cost certainty at a massive discount from the players’ potential future market value by doing the deals at this point. The players got a wealth of financial security at the sacrifice of future earnings potential.